The Blade of Blackpoole (1982)   9 comments

From the game’s manual at the Internet Archive.

Sirius Software, founded by Jewell and Terry Bradley, was one of the more prominent Apple II publishers of the early 1980s as they were joined early by the legendary Nasir Gebelli. Nasir was born in Iran and went to the United States in 1979 after the Revolution (his family was connected to the royal family) and ended up getting a reputation as the best Apple II programmer alive; he later went to Japan as a contractor with Square and worked on games like Ridge Racer, Final Fantasy, and Secret of Mana.

This game — and their three other text adventures from 1982 — have nothing to do with Nasir. Specifically, in 1982, Bob Blauschild cranked out Critical Mass and Escape from Rungistan, and Tim Wilson wrote Kabul Spy and today’s selection.

The Object of the game is to recover the magical sword MYRAGLYM and return it to the altar from whence it was stolen. Rumors speak of a secret chamber near Blockpoole in which the sword is said to lie.

There’s a couple remarkable technical things to comment on straight off the bat.

First, if you compare with, say, one of the On-Line games, or anything from Highland, you’ll notice the font/picture layout is somewhat different. This is because both the On-Line games and many others from the time used Apple’s built in graphics mode which naturally put four lines of the system-font text on the bottom. This made it hard to have much length to text. This game instead has a custom-created font that is displayed in graphics mode (rather than as raw text) to get more textual real estate.

Additionally, we’re finally at a phase where developers can be influenced by Infocom. It uses LONG and BRIEF as ways of changing room descriptions (to either always show a full-text room description each time, or only have a shorter version of revisits) and allegedly — according to the manual, at least — has a full parser system which not only allows for indirect objects but combination commands like GET ROCK AND SHIELD.

The game lays out a whole bunch of items to start with, five of them being from a shop (you start with 50 gold, and each item costs 10, so there’s no reason not to just buy all of them):

a rock
a hammer
a long staff
a jar of honey
some rope
an old lamp
a knife
a shield

One of the common themes through the game is a tight inventory limit (6 max. although in practical circumstance you have to leave some room to pick up more items) which constantly had me shuffling what I was holding; later, there is a “one way pass” where I’ve just been having to guess what’s useful. On one hand, the limit forces a little more thought as to what item goes to what puzzle, but constantly shuffling back to piles feels slightly less like having an adventure and more like being a delivery driver.

Attached to the shop is a tavern where you can get the plot, assuming you skipped the brief mention in the manual:

Any permutation I’ve tried of TALK TO MEN works. Despite the manual acting like there’s a lot of possible dialogue content, you can’t go Infocom-level deep and ASK MAN ABOUT (specific topic).

The opening otherwise has you pretty trapped in; the main way out is blocked by a carnivorous plant which will chomp you if you try to go through, and none of the items on that starting list work to get by it.

I thought for a while I’d be making one of my “intro to the game but I haven’t gotten very far” until I finally worked out what was going on with another obstacle, some quicksand.

I assumed the goal here was to escape in some fashion so I was trying to use a rope to lasso things, and crucially, the verb SWIM didn’t seem to do anything.

YOU ARE SINKING INTO THE QUICKSAND

I finally realized that if you attached a direction to the verb SWIM, it would work; that is, you could SWIM WEST or SWIM NORTH to get out, or progress farther with SWIM EAST. (This is one of those stopping points I suspect the author didn’t even think of; the verb ROW shows up later, also with consistent use of direction, so with SWIM they likely didn’t even process what a misleading response there was when SWIM was used on its own.)

Swimming leads by a white potion (yoink!) and this place:

For everything in the game so far (and everything past this point) ever item or creature you can refer to is mentioned in the text description, but here the bees are entirely unmentioned in the text. You can only see them in the picture. Assuming you have the honey you can GET BEES, then take them back to the carnivorous plant and feed it (who will then be happy enough to let you pass).

Before moving on to the next section of the game, I should mention there’s also a.) a hermit looking for a particular jewel that you find hiding behind a tree, b.) a boat in a river that can only row back and forth and seems to be purposeless, although it is a setup for a nifty puzzle later and c.) the white potion shrinks you down and kills you.

Moving on past the plant, there’s yet more forest, and one place in particular which is too dark and you fall…

…but somehow in complete darkness can still tie a rope and climb up.

Once past the pit you can find a torch which then you can light a lamp with. This lets you return past the dark area and find an amulet, which turns out to be the jeweled item that the hermit was looking for.

The book gives a “dangerous” prayer (I still haven’t been able to use it yet, but I assume when I find either the magic sword of my quest or the shrine it goes to it comes into play) but the riddle is more immediately important: it indicates that there’s one spot (near a large bird nest) where you can SING and get picked up.

This is the “one-way” moment I mentioned earlier. I assume you eventually will be able to loop back to the main map, but for now I’m having to just guess what the character’s inventory ought to be.

There’s yet more forest and a cliff you can apply the rope (again) on — and yes, I didn’t have the rope the first time so had to restore my game — and then (after picking up a tuning fork I haven’t found a use for) comes a fairly neat puzzle involving a river.

The setup reminded me of the boat from the start which was stuck in a lake with nowhere interesting to go. However, the boat was too big to carry. What if the white potion which killed me earlier also worked instead on items?

Very slick! Taking the miniature boat in hand, I was able to drop it in the northern river — it popped back to regular size. I then discovered I forgot the staff (from all the way back in the shop) that I needed to use as an oar, d’oh.

Another restored game later, I had both the boat and “oar” at the river, and pushed my way up to a river monster.

This is a good place to pause, not only because it makes a nice dramatic cliffhanger, but because I haven’t solved the puzzle yet (at least with the items I had handy). Despite my quibbles this game been a reasonably fun so far; the custom-font as opposed to system-font and at least slight nod to parser convenience has made the package feel more “professional” than many other pre-1982 games. This is a vague and hard-to-nail-down concept but I’ve often felt like I was playing a “straight from the coder’s bedroom” product — even when this wasn’t literally true — and a stray typo or graphical bug could happen at any moment (and they sometimes did). Here, even though I did spot one typo early, and even given the slightly crude art style, this feels like a game I could see come out of professional packaging.

Posted April 24, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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9 responses to “The Blade of Blackpoole (1982)

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  1. Played this when it came out on my Atari 800. As I recall, it loaded pretty fast and was fairly easy.

    • The Apple II version runs fast enough that it took a while before I realized I had the emulator at “authentic” speed (as opposed to cranking up to 300% or whatever some of these slow games have needed). They really did nail it at a raw technical angle.

      • You’ve touched upon some pretty strong memories for me having played these games in my childhood. You’re absolutely right that certain publishers did a noticeably better job at rendering screens quickly. Sierra Hi-Res Adventures, if I recall, were among the worst offenders. Adding insult to injury that their art style was also some of the crudest, especially considering their dominance of the market

  2. I, for one, absolutely understand what you mean by this feeling like a “professional product”. (Look at the silliness and misspellings in Highlands Computer Service games for instance).

    Although we “owned” a copy of BoB (that was likely copied in the back room of my Dad’s Apple user group), I recall little of this game but I do remember any Sirius Software release was a point of joy in my childhood. “Gruds In Space”, in particular, was a favorite of mine, and I look forward greatly to your coverage of that one. (Also wondering if you’ll dig in a bit into the history of the “Grud”, Sirius’ mascot-cum-adventure game star.)

    • I know Gruds in Space came last (in 1983) but I still need to nail down the actual order the other 4 games came out. I’m not super-picky about sequencing within a year as far as my play sequence goes, but it’d still be nice to know. (For the record, this one was chosen because random.org threw me this as the next random pick.)

      • I think combing through Softalk magazine might possibly shed some light on their release dates, although it’s not an exact science. With so many vintage magazine scans being available online now, it would probably be a worthwhile project to try and put together some at least semi-comprehensive, month-specific release date charts for the main micro platforms of the day (Apple II, ZX Spectrum, etc.), but it would be a massive undertaking compared to the gaming consoles…

  3. There’s actually some found items that can duplicate actions by bought items. I only mention this because to get the maximum score, you can only buy three items from the store (each gold piece left counts as a point if you’re carrying the moneybelt at the end of the game)

  4. Looks like I get to return the favor by editing you :)

    Looks like the game author was Tim Wilson, not Bob.http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_4C1ZwEub0Po/S3oNVm0ntKI/AAAAAAAABOU/Ou1uBk4Aq_4/s1600-h/apple_blade_blackpoole_title.jpg

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